Monday, 3 September 2012

Lakhdar Brahimi and Syria’s Rivers of Blood

Death counts from the Syrian Shuhada site

A total of 12,819 Syrians – 1,126 of them children and 1,244 females – were killed on Kofi Annan’s watch during his Syria troubleshooting mission between April 12 and August 19 this year.
The big question is how many more Syrian men, women and children will die before his successor Lakhdar Brahimi fails or succeeds in his role as new UN-Arab League envoy on Syria.
The Syrian Revolution Data Base, Syrian Shuhada (Syrian Martyrs), referred to by some branches of the United Nations, puts at 29,396 the total number of civilians and military killed in the 534-day Syria bloodbath up to September 1st.
Of these, 6,438 Syrians – or almost 22 percent of the total -- were killed in the month of August alone.
The main reason the numbers by Syrian Shuhada are high is because it counts unidentified bodies.
So in terms of per capita ratio, the total Syria death toll between mid-March 2011 and end-August 2012 translates to about 203,000 Russians or 433,000 Americans!
As he takes up his post, Brahimi has given a deeply pessimistic view of the task ahead of him.
He tells Lyse Doucet, Chief International Correspondent, BBC News, in an exclusive interview in New York:
“I’m coming into this job with my eyes open, and no illusions. I know how difficult it is -- how nearly impossible. I can’t say impossible -- [it is] nearly impossible.”
Brahimi admitted some trepidation about his new mission, saying he could understand those frustrated with the lack of international action in Syria.
“I'm scared of the weight of responsibility. People are already saying people are dying and what are you doing?
“And we are not doing much. That in itself is a terrible weight.”
Brahimi said he had so far failed to see “any cracks” in the “brick wall” that had defeated Annan -- an “intransigent” Syrian government, escalating rebel violence and a paralyzed UN Security Council, where China and Russia have vetoed several resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Damascus.
 A growing number of Syrians have fled abroad to escape the conflict.
He said he would keep Annan's six-point peace plan -- now seen by many as irrelevant -- in his “tool box” for possible adaptation, but admitted he “had ideas, but no plan yet,” apart from talking to as many people as possible.
Addressing the Syrian government, he said the need for political change in Syria was “fundamental and urgent,” but -- as he has previously -- refused to be drawn on whether President Assad should step down, as the opposition and several Western leaders are demanding.
“Change cannot be cosmetic,” he said. “There will be a new order but I do not know who will be the people in the order. That’s for Syrians to decide.”
He also sought to keep a distance between himself and the rebels, who have criticized him for his cautious stance.
“Please remember I am not joining your movement,” he said. “I am working for two international organizations, the United Nations and the Arab League, and I do not speak the same language as you.”
Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, notes in his leader today that Annan, in his parting shots, took aim at President Assad and at Russia and China. “He asked the former to step aside and blamed the latter pair for stopping the Security Council from speaking with one voice.”
Charbel adds:
Brahimi was closely watching Annan’s mission. He was aware of the locked Syrian, Iranian and Russian doors. People familiar with his modus operandi say he won’t travel around like his predecessor carrying a peace plan abridged in points.
He won’t hurry to place his cards on the table. Above all, “he won’t offer food to those who feel satiated.”
Brahimi can’t impose a solution and won’t start promoting the outlines of one. Most probably, he will play for patience and anticipation.
He can’t mediate seriously before the two parties to the Syria conflict feel “hungry” – “hungry” for an exit, that is.
His role can’t start in earnest before the two adversaries realize their chance of a knockout win is implausible, impossible and prohibitively costly.
Maybe Brahimi is playing for weariness and despair creeping to the two rivals’ hearts.
The regime would concede that it can’t win back control of the whole country; that persisting in the confrontation compounds future risks to allies fighting on its side; that victory is beyond reach, even with sustained Iranian and Russian support.
The regime would conclude in that case that it must search for a way out, even if the expected medicine is bitter or debilitating.
Perhaps Brahimi is also betting on the opposition eventually concluding (1) that a triumph is impossible without external military intervention, which doesn’t seem in the cards or attractive to world powers capable of mounting one (2) or that the bloody clash has turned into one among the country’s components, when experience shows that infighting among components allows scoring points but precludes decisive blows (3) or that such a clash among components risks killing the country’s unity and territorial integrity first and foremost (4) or that a protracted showdown  risks turning Syria into a regional sectarian war theater, which the opposition shuns because it is fighting to build a new Syria whose components would coexist in a democratic, free and egalitarian state.
The aforesaid leads to the painful conclusion that for his mission to succeed Brahimi needs new rivers of blood, additional waves of refugees to neighboring countries and more gruesome massacres, devastated villages and shattered neighborhoods.
To succeed, Brahimi needs the two sides to give up hope of a knockout win and to feel “hungry” for a way out of the blood-soaked tunnel.
He also needs Vladimir Putin to acknowledge that his excessive reliance on the spoiler’s role risks isolating and seriously undermining Russia’s image and interests in the Arab and Islamic worlds and internationally.
Brahimi likewise needs Iran to recognize that it cannot safeguard its past decade’s surge and has to ponder such things as damage limitations, likely compensations and private regional consultations.
I know, Charbel concludes, mine are harsh words falling on the ears of those who lost their loved ones, their livelihoods and their dreams. But everything points to the cycle of violence mounting before Brahimi can start handing out wound dressings, guarantees and visions to new Syria’s components.